Noel Burch worked for Gordon International Training in the 1970s, a company founded by Dr. Thomas Gordon to help train people in various disciplines such as leadership, conflict resolution, personal development, and teaching. Burch came up with a learning model titled “Four Stages of Learning Any New Skill,”and he and Gordon co-authored a book in 1974 titled T.E.T., Teacher Effectiveness Training. The aim of the book was to help teachers to bring out the best in their students and for parents to aid in their child’s learning development. It has been said that great teachers are also great thieves, as they “steal” the proven ideas of others in order to be the best that they can be. Burch’s model works well with teachers in all fields, and golf is no exception – so we’ll “steal” it for our purposes. The model consists of four parts: 1) unconsciously incompetent; 2) consciously incompetent; 3) consciously competent; 4) unconsciously competent. UNCONSCIOUSLY INCOMPETENT Golfers in this stage are doing exactly what this description indicates: They are doing something wrong, but they have no idea what it is, or even if they are indeed doing anything wrong. (Studies have shown that incompetent employees have less stress than competent employees, because since they are basically clueless, they don’t have enough knowledge to know if they’re doing a good job or not – but that’s another topic entirely.) When students first come to us, this is the stage that they find themselves in. We as teachers are tasked with identifying the problems, making the student aware of them, and coming up with the solutions. Students in this stage need a teacher who will be a strong guiding force. This is not to say that student input on the direction they want to go should be ignored, but in the end, the teacher should lay out a game plan and do it authoritatively. This helps instill confidence in the student regarding the teacher’s ability, but more importantly, it gives the student a firm path from which not to deviate, helping to eliminate doubt. CONSCIOUSLY INCOMPETENT The student now is aware of what the problems are and what remedies are needed. It’s okay for them to make some repetitions in this phase with the goal of becoming aware of what their flaws are. Teachers should take great care to still be a strong guiding force in controlling the direction of the lesson. Student feedback is sought, but only for the teacher to modify the direction he or she has laid out. It is detrimental to allow the student to guide the direction of the lesson in this stage, or for the teacher to reduce his or her control. CONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT This is the “turn the corner” stage, where the student has made the change. The student has to consciously think about what he or she is doing, and must be constantly aware of the feel of the change. This is also a “turn the corner” stage for the teacher, who at this point should back away and let the student engage in self-discovery. It is tempting for the teacher to keep reinforcing the instruction given, but it is more important for the student to simply engage in the learning process. This means the teacher should reduce the feedback dramatically, offering instruction only if the student is reverting back to bad habits or is struggling excessively with the new ones. In one sense, control of the lesson has now been handed over to the student. Another option is for the teacher to offer feedback only if the student requests it. Granted, that’s a pretty unconventional approach and isn’t often used, but one that studies have found to be quite effective. A mistake some teachers make in this stage is to assume that the student has successfully made the change, so it’s time to introduce another one. Wrong!  The great Byron Nelson said he only worked on one change at a time, because it was all he could handle. It’s great advice for golf teachers to heed, too. However, this needs to be explained further. Some students may need to make two changes at a time, perhaps one on the backswing and one on the forward. This is fine for most golfers. The admonishment to avoid multiple changes is when you’re working on one change and then decide to add another one to the mix. UNCONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT This is the ultimate stage, where the student is now executing the changes without conscious thought. Think about driving a car: If a car suddenly pulls out in front of you, you automatically and reflexively put on the brake. The same thing applies to golf. The student will now be able to swing without consciously focusing on the new habit. After this occurs, any new changes can now be introduced.
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